Politburo member, Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh (Credit: VGP)
Fifty years ago, with ‘the aspiration of building a solid foundation for a joint action to promote the regional cooperation in Southeast Asia in the spirit of equality and partnership and contributing to the peace and progress of the region’, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was officially established. During the long and difficult process which was full of many milestones, Vietnam has been proud to be an essential component which has contributed greatly to ASEAN today.
The half-century road of ASEAN and historical milestones
On August 8, 1967, Foreign Ministers of five Southeast Asian countries signed the Bangkok Declaration which gave birth to ASEAN. The organisation started with only five members including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Phillipines. Brunei was added to ASEANin 1984; meanwhile Vietnam was admitted in 1995, Lao and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999, finally realising the dream of an ASEAN consisting of all ten Southeast Asian countries.
The first ASEAN Summit was held in 1976, demonstrating greater interest and stronger political commitment for ASEAN cooperation. The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) was established in 1992 as a fruit of the first 25 years of ASEAN economic cooperation, laying out an important foundation for building the ASEAN Economic Community in future years. The ASEAN regional forum (ARF), which was inaugurated in 1994, with the intention of maintaining the spirit of ‘promoting the peace and security through dialogues and cooperation in Asia-Pacific’, initiated dialogue and consultation mechanisms on security and political issues in the region. In 2007, ASEAN added a new milestone on the its 40th anniversary by singing the ASEAN Charter, creating a profound change in quality and bringing ASEAN from a purely regional cooperation organisation to a legal entity.
Despite geographical proximity, ASEAN member countries show the diversification of political system, culture, languages and developmental levels. Undergoing many historical ups and downs with common goals and destiny, the nations have gradually narrowed the gap and harmonised these difference and rich diversity, bringing a strength and source of encouragement for the building of a strong sense of community. The ASEAN Community was officially founded on December 31, 2015, opening a new chapter in the history of ASEAN and bringing ASEAN cooperation to an all-time high.
50 years of cultivating a Community
The formation of the ASEAN Community in 2015 was the result of nearly 50 years of cooperation. The most solid foundation, and also the greatest achievement, is ensuring an environment of peace, stability and security in the region.
The deep-seated political and security community was built on the basis of political commitments and established behaviour standards as well as principles of consensus, non-interference into countries' internal affairs, jurisdiction, governance and integrity in the ASEAN political life. The Economic Community was a higher development of the AFTA. AFTA has cated a driving force for the economies of member countries as well as bringing opportunities for people to access the markets and expand their investment and businesses. The cooperation and sharing frameworks, mechanisms and practices, which were formed in many fields from education, culture, health, social welfare and environment to the response to challenges, were factors for shaping ASEAN Socio-Cultural-Community.This has brought the Community into a great family of the Southeast Asian countries that always mutually share and support development of one another.
ASEAN has also upheld its achievements in external relations, continuing to enhance the cooperation with international countries in order to take advantage of practical support and assistance from its partners as well as consolidating and maintaining its central role in the region. The results in ASEAN parliamentary cooperation and people’s diplomacy have contributed to enriching the overall picture of the ASEAN Community in the future.
However, ASEAN is facing numerous difficulties and challenges. The primary factor is the negative impact of the competitiveness among major countries as well as the rapid changes in the regional and international landscape. In this context, the burden placed on the member countries is increasing. In order to utilise the opportunities and promptly respond to the challenges to successfully build ASEAN Community, all members should have stronger political commitment, promote solidarity and internal linkages, seriously and effectively implement set programmes, respect the common principles and ensure the harmony between national and regional interests.
Lighting the common fire
Vietnam became the official member of ASEAN in 1995, marking a major turning point for the region and opening up a new era of peace and cooperation. Over the past 22 years, despite being a late member, Vietnam has always showed its goodwill, efforts, enthusiasm and responsibility, thus significantly contributing to the ASEAN’s common achievements. Vietnam has made efforts to accelerate the admission of remaining Southeast Asian nations to form ASEAN-10 as well as promote its positive role in defining developmental objectives and directions and formulating major policies of ASEAN.
The country has also made impressive marks at major events including the sixth ASEAN Summit in Hanoi in December 1998. Vietnam has also successfully assumed the role of ASEAN Chair in 1998 and 2010 with great and practical results, including the enlargement of the East Asia Summit consisting of all major countries in the region and the establishment of mechanisms for ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting (ADMM) Plus.
Since it’s formation of the ASEAN Community in 2015, Vietnam has been working with ASEAN member countries to actively build the Community, seriously implementing commitments and proposed initiatives in many fields. Notably, the country is one of the two countries with the highest rate of enacting priority measures in the master plan for the ASEAN Economic Community. Vietnam has also made numerous important contributions to expanding the relations and promoting the cooperation between ASEAN and its partners as well as successfully assuming its role of coordinating the relations of ASEAN with China (2009-2012), EU (2012-2015) and India (2015-2018).
On the basis of the common targets and plans that ASEAN defined in the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the Master Plan of the three pillars of the Community, with new position and strength, Vietnam continues to more widely and deeply join ASEAN cooperation in all fields than previous times. As a proactive member, the country continues to play a pivotal role in promoting solidarity and unity among ASEAN and holds a central role in maintaining the peace and security of the region’s development. Vietnam will also enhance the cooperation in fields of priority and economic sectors such as supporting micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), digital innovation technology, agriculture, energy security, water resources security, connectivity and narrowing the developmental gap. The country will proactively build action plans as well as propose feasible initiatives and projects to improve the quality of the people’s lives through social welfare, education, labour and environmental protection. In addition, Vietnam will continue to boost the substantive cooperation of ASEAN with major partners and promote the role of ASEAN overall and Vietnam in particular as it relates to associations and workings with other countries and around the world.
As an active member, Vietnam has enhanced the ‘enforcement culture’ among ASEAN, and has improved the operational efficiency of its organisational apparatus, strengthened practical cooperation to cope with non-traditional security challenges, and connect closely mechanisms that have leading roles in the region such as EAS, ARF and ADMM+. The country has also fully implemented its commitments in the master plan for the ASEAN Economic Community as well as actively developed the master plan for ASEAN Socio-Cultural-Community in specialised cooperative programmes.
ASEAN is strategically important for Vietnam. A united and closely linked ASEAN with a central role in the region, along with a strong and prosperous ASEAN Community will contribute to ensuring the long-term interests of the member nations as well as protect the interest of all the people in the region. With the determination to ‘ensure the sustainable development for the benefit of present and future generations, and put the people’s peace, life and welfares as the focal point in the process of building community’, it can be well known and trusted that ASEAN Community will develop sustainably and prosperously.